The Getty will return a cache of illegally sourced ancient sculptures to Italy, including a prized depiction of the poet Orpheus

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles will return three ancient terracotta sculptures and other works of art to Italy after an investigation found the items were obtained illegally.

Dating between 350 and 300 BCE, the life-size statues depict the seated poet Orpheus with a pair of standing sirens. The three pieces, believed to be from the Puglia region in southern Italy, have been removed from view as the museum prepares to return them to Rome in September.

An investigation into alleged antiquities trafficker Gianfranco Becchina led the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit to Orpheus and the Sirensaccording to New York Times. The unit and its leader, Matthew Bogdanos, seized the carvings in April. The terms of reference for the trading unit mentioned the value of the three carvings at $8 million.

Colossal head of a deity (2nd century AD). Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“With information provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Antiquities Trafficking Unit indicating the illegal excavation of Orpheus and the Sirenswe have determined that these items should be returned,” Getty Museum director Timothy Potts said in a statement.

By the time the statues were confiscated this year, the museum had already begun discussions about repatriating these and other relics.

Research by Getty and independent scholars determined that four additional works of art, none of which have been exhibited in recent years, were also eligible for a return to Italy. These include a marble head and a stone mold for casting pendentives, both from the 2nd century AD; an 1881 oil painting by Camillo Miola; and a fourth-century BCE Etruscan bronze thymiaterion, or incense burner.

The first three objects were acquired by Getty in the 1970s, the museum said, while the thymiaterion was purchased in 1996. The institution said it was working with the Italian Ministry of Culture to determine a date for return for these artifacts.

thymiaterion (350–325 BC). Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“We value our strong and fruitful relationships with the Italian Ministry of Culture and with our many fellow archaeologists, curators, curators and other scholars throughout Italy, with whom we share a mission to advance the preservation of ancient cultural heritage” , Potts said.

Previously considered one of the Getty Museum’s greatest treasures, Orpheus and the Sirens should be the subject of a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Surviving Art in Rome.

After that, the Time reported, the sculptures will be moved to the city of Taranto, in Puglia.

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